While a lot of attention has been focused on trade rumors surrounding position players Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, Oakland also has three starting pitchers who would likely interest contenders around the league.
The trio of Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, and Frankie Montas led one of the top rotations in the American League in 2021. They’re all coming off above-average seasons and have strong value but are getting expensive and entering the final year or two of team control with some injury risk involved. Yet even with expected trades of major parts of the team, will the A’s sell off all three of them, or will they keep somebody?
There are a couple complicating factors. Unlike with Chapman and Olson whose infield positions don’t have convenient replacements on hand, the A’s do have a pair of young arms ready for a chance to take hold of a starting job in James Kaprielian and Daulton Jefferies, plus perhaps even former top prospects A.J. Puk and Brent Honeywell. One more unknown, is the likely quick turn-around time from the end of the lockout to the beginning of Spring Training and games. Heck, with history suggesting Spring Training would start within a week or two of a deal, there might not be enough time to get a deal for even two, much less all three starters.
If there’s going to be a sell-off, who should be the priority? Which of the three should Oakland hold on to, and which should Oakland be marketing to teams? Let’s take a look …
Sean Manaea (30)
Salary projection: $10.2MM, final year of team control
Reason to keep: Outside of the weird 2020 season, Manaea has always generally been more of a 1st half type of pitcher, performing well in the early going before falling off in the second half. That was the case again in 2021, with Manaea’s August particularly brutal for the left-hander. There will always be high demand for starting pitchers at the trade deadline, and Manaea performing like he usually does in the 1st half of the season would certainly make any return package all the sweeter while A’s fans get to enjoy Manaea for a few more months.
Reason to trade: As the most expensive arm in the rotation, and with only one year of control remaining, now is the A’s best chance to recoup some serious prospect value instead of letting him leave after the season, all while getting to clear payroll space. Manaea has a major shoulder injury on his record from the end of 2018, and while it seems he’s proven it’s a non-issue at this point, a shoulder injury is more serious than an elbow problem, and that’s saying something. On the plus side, Manaea also set a new career-high in average exit velocity, as good an indicator of health as anything that should help sell him as fully healthy to prospective buyers.
Chris Bassitt (33)
Salary projection: $8.8MM, final year of team control
Reason to keep: After suffering a horrific injury on August 17th, Bassitt’s value isn’t where it should be. The nature of the incident shouldn’t give the A’s the sense that Bassitt is injury-prone, as he’d been reliably healthy the last few seasons and he did return to the mound at the end of 2021. But his value will be lower than it could be right now, plus teams might not even offer a fair trade by citing the fact Bassitt has only gone over 100 MLB innings twice in his career. Oakland shouldn’t take chump change for a pitcher who likely would have placed higher than 10th in Cy Young voting if not for the freak injury.
Reason to trade: Bassitt has performed slightly better than Montas overall the past three years, but as a 33-year-old starting pitcher who has a Tommy John surgery on his record, his value is likely at or near its peak. The fact that Bassitt was able to come back and at least pitch a couple games after his injury should give interested teams less reason to worry about any lasting effects from the liner. The first-time All-Star in 2021 would bring back a better package than Manaea would, and most projections have Bassitt coming down to earth in 2022.
Frankie Montas (29 in March)
Salary projection: $5.2MM, Free agent after 2023
Reason to keep: A few blow-up games skewed Montas’ final season stat line, but for the most part he was arguably among the best pitchers in all of baseball in 2021, and especially down the final stretch. The contract isn’t prohibitive for someone of Montas’ talents, and he’s generally been available and healthy since joining the rotation in 2018, save for the PED suspension in 2019. Pitchers who can strike guys out like Montas don’t grow on trees, and Oakland will still need someone to market to fans and lead what could be a young rotation in 2022.
Reason to trade: Of all the pitchers who received Cy Young votes in 2021, only Montas and Bassitt could be considered attainable. Any team that still feels they’re a starting pitcher away wouldn’t have much else to turn to realistically, boosting Oakland’s bargaining position. Add in the cheaper salary and the extra year of team control, and Montas would assuredly bring back the most in a trade of all three starters.
Do it for the Matts: Trade them all
One option that hasn’t been talked about enough is prioritizing actually keeping both Chapman and Olson. The two star corner infielders are projected to earn roughly $21.5MM combined this upcoming season, whereas the trio of starting pitchers will make roughly a combined $24.2MM. The A’s don’t readily have an obvious replacement for either Chapman or Olson while the starting rotation has legitimate options to replace those arms. If the A’s want to even try to compete in 2022, while at the same time trimming payroll, trading from an area of strength like the starting rotation makes more sense than trading your top two everyday players whom you can’t readily replace.
The best bet: Keep one of the pitchers. At 33, Bassitt likely isn’t going to be around for the next A’s playoff squad. And for a team trying to cut payroll, Manaea’s the second-most expensive player on the roster behind Olson. Montas, on the other hand, is still relatively cheap at $5.2MM, has an extra year of team control, and it still feels like there is another step he can take to get even better. At only 29, Montas might be the best bet to build your rotation around in the short term.
What do you think? Vote in the poll below!
Who should the A’s keep?
This poll is closed
Trade all three! Keep the Matts